Science

Hippocamp: A New Moon Revolving Around Neptune

The small moon is coming into clearer focus as researchers have now spotted its orbit and origin. The moon’s presence increases the probability that there exists tinier worlds around Neptune left unseen by humanity. In 2013, stargazers firstly observed the tiny moon in the images of Neptune captured by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. A study published in the Journal Nature revealed the existence of tiny moon orbiting around Neptune. Hippocamp, the newly discovered moon is the smallest moon of Neptune. The name comes from Greek mythology, which means sea monster. It is sometimes called the hippocampus, the creature with a horse body and a fishtail. It is described in Greek and Roman artwork.

As compared to Neptune’s 30,599 miles’ diameter, Hippocamp is amazingly tiny as a moon. It measures just 21 miles in diameter. In other words, it is about the size of a major metropolitan city. The new tiny moon attracted researchers to study it from earth. The information collected by Hubble Space Telescope enabled astronomers to know its size. It helped to know the exact path Hippocamp takes around Neptune. Mark Showalter, study’s leading author, says his team has done a complete study, so they know the exact path of revolution. Hippocamp is the seventh inner moon of the eighth planet in the Solar System. Astronomers received an image of the moon back in 2004, but they were unable to verify its orbit till date. Showalter said they found a new method that could clear those images.

They shifted the pixels of one image to match with pixels of another image. After applying the pixel-shifting technique on some five-minute exposures taken in sequence, they obtained one 40-minute exposure. After combining data, the small dot appeared in the images, and that’s Hippocamp. Showalter thinks that the tiny moon is a piece of another Moon, Proteus. It appeared when a comet passed from the surface of Proteus. It is a real-time example of a collision between a moon and a comet. In this case, the moon didn’t break, but it broke a piece and its Hippocamp. Showalter says in future NASA and ESA may send a spacecraft to Neptune to study the system more precisely. At that time, there will be more moons to find. But it is possibly the limit of what researchers can perform from Earth.

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